Last few days have been a lot of work, to put it mildly. Started with the butterfly being sick and out of school for more than a couple days and then it was the little one’s turn. Severe cough, cold and congestion. It’s terrible when the baby falls sick. Not that it’s any better if the older one does but at least she can share here pain. With the little ones all they can do to express their despair is cry and that makes it worse on them and on us. Last night was a first in few days when we all of us got to sleep through it. Past few were spent lying half awake next to a sick wheezing and coughing baby, rubbing balm on her chest, measuring temperature every couple hours and checking the settings of the humidifier. Valentines and Presidents Day came and went by without us even noticing. Not that I am the Valentine’s Day kind. I am one of those who never remembers birthdays and anniversaries. Friends actually call and remind that I should be wishing them. And then I do after profusely apologizing. Although I know that they do not need the apology and so do they. I still try to be nice, on their birthdays!
Thankfully the husband is the same, so no uncomfortable pauses or silent complaints. First couple years of our marriage we tried our best though, to remember the days and buy gifts. Several firsts and seconds you see. But as the marriage grew, so did we, into each other. So now a kiss in the morning and a few ” I love you(s)” snuck here and there work better for us than remembering buying gifts. One thing we still try to do though, if we can, is cook something nice within the comforts of our own kitchen. This Valentines Day it was tough so something decadent yet quick had to be thought of. Panna Cotta came to mind. It’s easy, it’s quick, absolutely luscious and extremely simple. Exactly what was needed.
Now considering the simplicity of the dish I thought instead of just sharing the recipe how about I share all I know about Panna Cotta so that you can tweak it the way you’d like to better suit yours and your family’s palate.
Let’s start with what is Panna Cotta. It’s a thick, creamy pudding like dessert born in Italy, Tuscany to be specific. A basic panna cotta recipe mixes three simple ingredients, cream, sugar and gelatin to make a thick, creamy and rich jelly like dessert. I normally use half milk half cream in my panna cotta but some say half n half works better. Some use all cream which for obvious reasons is more creamy. There’s no eggs involved here and no baking either so pretty much all you have to do is get the balance of cream/milk/dairy to the amount of gelatin right, add some flavoring and let it cool and set. A good panna cotta or a panna cotta when done right should hold its shape when unmolded on a dish and should have no grits if cut through it. You can then either top it with some fruit jelly, a compote, nuts or enjoy it just as is. The recipe I am sharing today is of a panna cotta served in a cup layered with fruit gelee.
You can also make a dairy free, vegan panna cotta using nut milk (eg: almond milk or cashew milk), coconut milk, or even soy milk. You simply have to balance the amount of gelatin to milk, to achieve the right consistency. Now gelatin is made with animal products so if you want you can also use agar-agar or other plant based gelatin instead. Anyway let’s get to the cooking part and take it one step at a time. I feel embarrassed about even writing that last considering all it takes to cook this dessert is a total of 5 minutes. And if it is taking you more than that, there’s something wrong.
Ingredients: Makes about 6 medium sized servings
For Panna Cotta: (Adapted from The Kitchn)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 teaspoons of gelatin
1/2 cup sugar (I used powdered sugar as it dissolves easily. Fell free to use granulated or brown per your liking)
1 teaspoon cardamom powder (I crushed seeds from the cardamom pods to use here. If using store bought cardamom powder, you will need extra. Adjust quantity to your liking. Also feel free to add other flavorings like vanilla, coffee, salted caramel, etc)
A little oil (If planning to unmold the panna cotta then you will have to lightly oil the ramekins or the mold you are using.)
For Panna Cotta:
Blooming the gelatin: In a small bowl pour 1/2 cup milk. Sprinkle gelatin powder into it. Let is sit for 5 minutes. In the end the gelatin should bloom and turn into a cloudy mass.
Dissolve gelatin and sugar in milk: In a sauce pan pour rest of the milk. Turn on the heat. Add bloomed gelatin into the milk and stir well while slowly heating up the milk. keep in mind we do want to boil the milk but only heat it gently so the moment you see vapors rising turn down the heat to low. Stir continuously. To check whether gelatin is dissolved well, look at the back of the stirring spoon. If you see granules then it still needs time. Mix in sugar. Let it dissolve completely.
Remove from heat.
Add cream and flavoring. Mix well.
Pour into containers: I served my panna cotta with gelee in cups so I have different steps to follow from here on. But if you want to unmold your panna cotta then pour the mixture into lightly oiled ramekins and pop into the refrigerator.
In case of this recipe, place your cups in a cupcake baking tray in tilted position. Carefully pour the mixture into the cups filling only half of the container. Transfer into the refrigerator and chill for about 2 hours until the panna cotta is firm.
Unmolding: If unmolding the panna cotta simply place the ramekins in a container with warm water covering it right under the rims. One at a time using a butter knife gently release the vacuum from the edge of the panna cotta and invert it on to the plate. If serving with gelee skip this step.
Making of Gelee:
1 cup fruit juice (I squeezed fresh grapfruit juice for my grapefruit gelee and cleaned, cored and blended some fresh strawberries which I later strained through a strainer for my strawberry gelee. Feel free to use fruits of your choice. Keep in mind acidic fruits like pineapple and kiwi do not work great with gelatin so try to stay away from them)
1/4 cup water (for certain fruit gelee)
1 teaspoon gelatin
1/3 cup sugar
Get the fruit juice ready: Squeeze fresh juice or blend the fruit of choice in a blender. Pass the juice through a strainer into a bowl. Discard the pulp. Mix water if using a juice extracted from pulp.
Bloom the gleatin: Pour 3 tablespoon of juice in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over it. Give it 5 minutes to bloom.
Dissolve gelatin, juice and sugar: Transfer juice into a sauce pan. Turn on the heat. Stir continuously add the gelatin mass and dissolve it into the juice. Once the gelatin is dissolved add sugar. Mix well. Make sure you do not boil the juice.
Layer on Panna Cotta: Pull out Panna Cotta from the refrigerator. Place them on a tray, flat. Pour gelee liquid in panna cotta jars.
Chill: Transfer the jars back into the refrigerator. Let it chill for another 1-2 hours. Garnish with a choice of fruit, nuts or mint/basil leaves. Serve chilled.
Using this basic recipe you can play around with flavors and shapes. Stir in some chocolate to get chocolate panna cotta, coffee, caramel, touch of spices like cayenne, cloves or cinnamon are a few options.